How do we know when the liturgy is … well, wrong?

Some use the language of “liturgical abuse” to describe this sense of something gone awry at worship. Is this a valid term? What would constitute such an “abuse”? (Pray Tell‘s Fritz Bauerschmidt has commented about the problematic aspects of this term.)

Obviously, rites and rubrics exist for a very good reason — to help us maintain the dignity of liturgy. How do we maintain that dignity without falling into a strict legalism that nitpicks and demeans the efforts of well-intentioned people?

Fr. Joseph Krupp of the Diocese of Lansing addresses this topic in the January issue of FAITH magazine when he responds to a question about reporting “liturgical abuse.”  He advises that the term is problematic and shouldn’t be used — most priests, he says, are particularly sensitive to the charge of “abusing” the Mass and would find the term a “conversation stopper, not the beginning of a dialogue.” He goes on:

…one of the great challenges to being a priest right now is that the Catholic world seems to have an overabundance of experts on liturgy.  A priest who does little but write articles and give interviews about the failings of other priests is not an expert – I often think of the quote from President Roosevelt about how there are people who “do” and people who criticize the doers.  When the people to whom we go for information on the Mass and on being Catholic are people more intent on evaluating others than actually getting out and serving God’s people in real and tangible ways, then we need to turn them off in every sense of the word.  As Catholics, we need to be better than that.

Should it be our job to be on guard constantly for “abuses”?  Fr. Joe continues:

I think it is important to ask ourselves if our need to monitor liturgy and make sure it’s perfect is sometimes a need on our part to control.  There are some folks who simply can’t sit at Mass without evaluating it and making sure it is in accordance with their interpretation of the law.

What do you think?

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